Moving to Holland is not easy, but it's worth the effort. This blog tells the story of shifting from American life in Pittsburgh to Expat life in the Netherlands,
and all of our European adventures that follow.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Every beginning has an end,

and every end has a new beginning.

As on the day when we boarded that plane over 3 years ago to move from Pittsburgh to Amsterdam, with only 6 suitcases and a lot of unanswered questions, today we boarded the plane to move 'home.'  It is surreal.  Mixed emotions are to be expected, but we are predominately excited to be moving back to the United States.

We will certainly miss the numerous outdoor cafes, especially the ones next to a lovely canal or harbor, where you can sit for hours.  We'll miss easily taking a train to explore new cities, and experiencing all of the various festivals in different countries.  We'll also miss some of the "common sense" or "personal responsibility" policies like, for example, being able to go to a city festival, parade, outdoor concert, the movies, or barbecue in the park, and have a beer or glass of wine.  And, of course, we'll miss the great friends that we've made. 

It is nice, though to look forward to being in the same time zone as our family (or closer to it).  We look forward to starting our own family (in time).  We'll be able to read and understand our mail when we get it!  And, if you have an issue with a utility or anything, you can pick up a phone and there will be a polite and helpful customer service representative there eager to help you (free of charge).  Being able to run errands at shops after 5:00 on weekdays, so our entire weekend is not spent doing so... that will be nice, too.  Not to mention having a car back, especially for grocery shopping, so we don't have to carry or bike with everything.

We do not know what New Hampshire holds for us.  Even though we'll be back in the US, it will likely be a different experience than we've had before.  But, we are nothing if not adaptable.  After this Expat experience, we have learned a lot, and grown a lot, and we are confident that we can carve out our home wherever we may be.


Tot Ziens Rotterdam!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's not a red herring,

they really love this stuff!

There are few things quite as typically Dutch as a herring stall (maybe second to that is an Oliebollen stall in the winter). The origins go way back to their fishing and trading days over a 1000 years ago.  Raw herring, caught in the North Sea, cleaned, with it's head and bones removed, and conserved in in salt.  It is usually served with diced, raw onions, and sometimes with pickles.

Mmm... now doesn't that look lekker?!

And the typically Dutch way to eat it: pick it up by it's tail, and slide it into your mouth in one fell swoop. Like so:

You'll often see people walk up to the stall such as this, put a two Euro coin down, and be handed a herring without ever exchanging a word. Now that is Dutch efficiency!

So, we felt like it was our duty to get the complete Dutch experience by trying the slippery, slimy, smelly fish delicacy... and we waited until literally the last day to do it.  Here is the proof!

Confident in my abilities, I went first.  

Not looking so certain anymore once I have a mouthful of herring. 

Chad was, shall we say, not pleased with the idea.

But, he was a sport.

OK, full disclosure, neither of us ate any more than the one bite you see here.  But, how many raw herrings have you eaten (question not applicable to the Dutch)?  The only thing that would have made this experience better (other than trading the herring for an oliebollen), would be if it had been served to us by this lovely Nederlandse vrouw:


The rest of the pics are here on Flickr:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Good friends

We have made a truly amazing group of friends in Holland.  Most of us were Expats, so we formed our own 'family' abroad.  We traveled together, barbecued together, and partied together (sometimes too much), and celebrated baby showers, birthday parties, and Dutch football victories.  Our experience would not have been the same without them, and we wanted to show them our appreciation, and celebrate our repatriation by throwing a farewell party.

We started with dinner at Bazar with Jake and Erin.  I don't know who was more upset about us leaving, us or them.  ;)  The four of us were our "American connection," and we helped each other through many days of homesickness.  We celebrated the 4th of July with barbecues in the park, and watched college football and NFL on ESPN America, or the ever-choppy Slingbox.  There were someone who we didn't have to explain ourselves to, or preface every story with "I'm an American."  You couldn't ask for better friends in a foreign country.  

For the party, we chose one of our favorite local, old-school Dutch pubs, Sijf.  All of our good friends from Erasmus MC and Maersk were there: Jake and Erin, Dayrina, Toyer (Andrew), Tim and Becky, Hannah, Rusa and Perry, Arjen and Linda, Dominic and Caron, and even the old party animal, Dick.

We will be forever grateful to the hospitality and friendship of Arjen and Linda Amelink.  They brought us into their home on holidays, family outings, football viewing, and more.  They introduced us to Sjoelen, and the art of grilling on a 1x3 foot charcoal grill.  Most importantly, they were our family away from home.  

They gave us some wonderful, unexpected gifts, including these beauties!

And, Perry and Rusa, also put together an amazing book for us, with pictures of some of our fun and crazy times, and personal messages from each of our friend.  Needless to say, this was the drop that broke the dam, and the tear flowed from this point on in the evening.

I hope that we will be able to keep in touch with these wonderful people.  And, hopefully, meet up with them again in future trips to Rotterdam, or somewhere else.

Thank you to all of our wonderful friends!  We love you all like family, and we will miss you greatly. (ok, here I go again with the tears...)


The rest of the pics are here on flickr:
(though, we only took pictures in the beginning, as later in the evening was all tears and beers) ;)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

One last cruise

We have always wanted to go on a private boat around Amsterdam. One of Chad's co-workers, Fleur, has a family home and boat business on the water just outside of Amsterdam.  She took us and the entire Erasmus group out for a day on the water.

We had loads of good food and beer to get us through the day.  We even went through a lock to enter from the waterways outside of the city, to the inner canal system (my inner geek thought this was pretty cool).

Amsterdam is always beautiful from the water.

This was a fun one to mark off of our to-do-before-leaving list.


The rest of the pics are here on flickr:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Commencing Repatriation...

It's hard to believe, but our 3+ years in Rotterdam is quickly coming to an end. We have cancelled all of our utilities, our gym membership, and or apartment lease. We found a removal company to ship all of our boxes to New Hampshire (no easy task). We have scrutinized our clothes the way Donald Trump does his Apprentice contestants--if they convinced us of their worth, they would make the cut. Over half didn't succeed, and were given to the Red Cross.

Today, we made another huge step, and moved the furniture out of our apartment. Another American Expat couple is making the same move to Rotterdam in a couple months that we made 3 years ago. So, we arranged to store all of our furniture, kitchen equipment and dishes, sheets, towels, etc. for them, which should help them get a good start.

We felt really productive after today. We rode our bikes across town to the rental car office, rented a moving truck, drove for the first time in Holland (which I'm glad we never have to do again), and the two of us carried all of our disassembled Ikea furniture down our two steep flights of stairs by ourselves. This all may seem simple enough, but any day here that we accomplish exactly what we set out to achieve seems like a huge victory, because nothing went wrong- even the weather agreed (something that rarely happens).

Since the house where we are storing this stuff is having road work done soon, this was the only time we could take everything over with the moving truck. Which means, until we leave in 3 weeks, we have the following: 1 air mattress, two chairs, our TV, some towels, 1 pan, and a few dishes. Not to mention the dozens of moving boxes. It is fun in a way, though. Like 'indoor camping,' with all of the comforts of running water.

The next few months are going to be an adventure. Handing over our final boxes of things to the removal company, packing our suitcases and saying goodbye to our apartment, Meagan's wedding, a month apart while Chad wraps things up in Rotterdam, and finally, taking our life out of storage in Pittsburgh and making the long drive up to New Hampshire, and to our new rental house which we have only seen in photos.

We're looking forward to all of the above... and we'll be just in time for Leaf Season in New England!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Porto, Portugal

For one last amazing European trip (at least for a while), I met up with Stacey, in Porto, Portugal. She is studying in France for the summer, so we planned this trip to meet up for a fun girls weekend. (Chad stayed back in Rotterdam, working hard to finish up his work at Erasmus.)

Porto is a unique, old, and authentic Portuguese city. Steep hills line both sides of the river, which is linked by a double layered bridge.
We hiked up the hill one afternoon, walked across the top of the bridge, and were rewarded by a beautiful view of the city.
Porto is known for it's beautiful tiles. There are painted tiles on buildings all over the city, such as this chapel,

and the beautiful train station.
Even the local homes and buildings are covered in colorful square tiles with various patterns and textures.

We found a great hostel to stay at called Dixo's. The location was perfect, between the river and the train station, and the old well-renovated building had a lot of character and charm. We met some cool people at the hostel who we explored the city with, and also enjoyed some wine, Port, and cheese on the gorgeous rooftop deck.

That's right folks, for just 20 Euro a night, this view can be yours!

I liked the fact that Porto was not a huge tourist destination. The buildings were old, and in many cases abandoned and crumbling. One of my favorite things we came across was this great old market that we found in town, Mercado do Bolhao. Each stall was run by a cute old lady who looked like she had been working there for 70 years or more.
This lovely granny waved as I was taking her picture. Can I put her in my pocket and take her home with me?
Also, please note, each and every stall had pictures of two things hanging in the back: the Portugal football team (which the country is crazy about) and Jesus. Jesus and Football... what else do you need?

The south side of the river, across from the city, is packed with Port wineries. We spent one afternoon walking between the wineries and sampling the varieties of Port. We went to Taylors, Croft, Offley, and Kopke.
They often paired the tastings with chocolate or dried fruit. I was in heaven.

While we are on the topic of delicious sweets, I fell in love with one of the local pastries called 'pastel de nata,' or custard tart.

I really enjoyed Portugal. It felt authentic and hard working, yet friendly, and I have a new found understanding of Port. I would be happy to go back with Chad, and possibly check out Lisbon, or other cities in the south. Will have to put that on the future list... along with so many other places.


- See all photos from the trip on Flickr:

Monday, July 11, 2011

North Sea Jazz Festival

What if I told you that you could see Prince,

Snoop Dogg,

and Tom Jones

all at the same venue on the same night? Strange, but true... and awesome!

Each year, the North Sea Jazz Festival brings an amazing variety of artists to the area. This year was no exception.

We are fortunate that the festival is at Ahoy, in Rotterdam, which is only a couple metro stops from our apartment. We spent the day with Erin and Hanna, walking around, checking out the different bands and artists, and sampling all of the good food... and maybe a few beverages (OK, and I may have had 2 ice cream cones, too).

We heard some bands that were new to us. We really enjoyed the crazy, dancing big-band conductor Kyteman, and The Jamsessions. That's Jam Sessions, not Jameson's, as I originally read it (you can see where my mind goes). One of our other favorites was Raphael Saadiq. He's R&B, hip hop, soul, funk, etc. And, we didn't realize it at the time, but he was a member of Tony! Toni! Tone! We've already bought one of this albums.

Craziest performer of the night unanimously goes to...

Bootsy Collins!
Look Out!

It's Not Unusual to enjoy a great performance by the great Tom Jones.
(Sorry, this is the best my little point-and-shoot can do at a dark concert)

He is a classic, period. Maybe if I was 20 years older, and had seen him 20 years ago I could see myself screaming and throwing my bra on stage. But now, I just enjoyed his deep, soothing voice, and countless old stories of Frank and the gangsters in Vegas.

And, of course there's the one and only D O double G - Snoop Dogg! One of my favorite rappers ever. I've been a fan since I was 13, and lucky for me, this show was all of his old classics from Doggystyle. Warren G was even there to help Regulate. Hanna was brave enough to walk up into the standing crowd for Snoop. It was great. He played all of the great hits, and we also got to hear his new song with David Guetta, Wet. He was really fun to watch, and everything you would hope to expect seeing him live.

And, I got a kick out of the two Huge security men that stood on guard at each end of the stage for the entire show.
At the end of the night, after a long day of standing and "jumping around," we saw a true legend. Needless to say, Prince was well worth the wait. I've always liked his music, but I wouldn't call myself a fanatic (I reserved that for MJ when I was younger). However , after seeing him live, we understand what all of the hype is about. Anyone would enjoy his show. He is really a true performer, and incredibly talented singer, dancer, and guitarist.
The show got started around half past midnight, and went for over 2 hours. He started with a lot of jam sessions, and more abstract music that I've never heard, for the Jazz Fest crowd. After changing into his iconic blue suit, he came out and set the stage on fire with a lot of classic songs and fancy footwork. It was a blast. We were truly impressed.
Not sure who has higher heels: him or her.

Walking home from the metro around 3:30, we just kept saying to each other how we couldn't believe we saw Snoop AND Prince in the same night. Not to mention all of the other great music. I'm glad we're taking advantage of all that is available in the area while we're still here.

- S

More pics on Flickr:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From the lowlands to the woodlands

It's official... the next stop on our journey will take us to beautiful New Hampshire!

Here are some NH quick facts to help you get acquainted with our new home:

Population: 1.3 mil
Size: The 5th smallest state in the US, at an area of 9,351 square miles
State Nickname: The Granite State
State Sport: Skiing (of course)
State Fruit: Pumpkin (my favorite!)

State Motto: Live Free or Die (awesome!)

After Chad's last two conferences in Austria and Florida, the details were confirmed for his new position at Dartmouth. He also set a start date of October 1.

So, in October we will finally get our life out of storage in Pittsburgh, and then we're Northward Bound! We're excited about our next adventure.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From WV to FL

Our 5 weeks on the run took us to Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and Florida.  First with a trip to ol' PNC Park for a Pirates game.

Then to Morgantown, where we had some delicious steaks (as usual). :)  Then to Charleston to see Sittee.  We also had time to go to the new WV History Museum, and visit the Capital while we were there.  Really interesting to learn more about our WV roots.

This is the famous statue outside of the capital building called Lincoln at Midnight, where he deliberated over West Virginia's statehood.

There was also this nice tribute to WV coal miners.
Then we headed back up to Wheeling, where we celebrated Meagan and Trevor's upcoming wedding with a shower!

The Shower was beautifully decorated (with Meagan's hard work and planning), though not as beautiful as the bride-to-be.  We had a lot of fun.  We're all very excited for the wedding... only a couple more months!

After the shower, we had a nice barbecue with the family back at the house.  It is so relaxing for Chad and I to be back in West Virginia, to sit on a deck, look at beautiful green trees, and smell the fresh air, and to be with family and friends.

Then, it was off to Florida.  We flew into Miami, then drove to Naples via Alligator Alley.  Yes, it is the way it sounds.  We made the drive with Ute, who flew in from Rotterdam to attend the conference in Naples with Chad.

We're trying to blend in so the alligators won't see us. ;)

Along the way, we stopped in Everglades National Park, where we walked on a trail not more than 15 feet from alligators in a canal.  The wouldn't let you do it if it wasn't safe... right?

OK, let's play a little Where's Waldo-ish game: where's the alligator?  Can you see it's eyes?  

How about here?

OK, enough teasing.  In a controlled park nearby, where we were up safely on an overlook, we saw this big boy! He was by far the biggest one we saw.

There is not much to say about Naples.  Retirement homes and a couple 'resort' hotels along the beach.  A very sleepy area with a lot of this:

Once back in Miami, Chad and I celebrated our 4 Year Anniversary!  Chad found this amazing hotel, where our room was blue.

We went to one of the most luxurious South Beach hotels, The Delano, to have a $15 drink at the bar, and stroll around the pool.

You know, just waitin' on my girl Beyonce so we can hit the clubs (FYI: she and Jay-Z stay here when they come to Miami).

We had wonderful days on the beach in our hotels chair and umbrella, and some cold drinks.  I could get used to this!

And, just for the heck of it... who's this handsome fellow?


More pics from the shower:

And from Alligator Alley:

And pics from Miami: